After enthusiastically selling the war since its inception, the mainstream media in Europe may be beginning to change its tune.
As the undeniable failure of Ukraine’s much-anticipated counter offensive begins to sink in on the old continent, another crack in the media narrative around the conflict has appeared — and what’s more in one of Europe’s newspapers of record, Spain’s El País. On Monday, the newspaper published an op-ed (behind paywall) by José Luis Cebrián titled “Defending Ukraine to the Death… of Ukrainians.” The article raises serious concerns about the real objectives of the war, the way it is being waged and its impact on the European Union, much of which is encapsulated in the article’s sub-heading:
“The war is a proxy war between NATO and Russia that has roots that predate the invasion whose immediate consequence has been the subordination of the EU project to the objectives of the [NATO] military alliance.”
This one sentence makes three points that are hardly news to NC readers but may be to many loyal El País readers: first, what is happening in Ukraine is not a David versus Goliath struggle between an aggressive superpower and a small but plucky neighbour, as newspapers like El País have been claiming for the past year and a half, but rather a proxy war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers; second, its roots long predate Russia’s Special Military Operation of February 2022; and third, the EU project has essentially been subordinated to NATO’s military goals, which are essentially Washington’s military goals.
A Very Influential Man
Granted, the article is an opinion piece, meaning it does not reflect the newspaper’s official editorial line. But Cebrián is not your average contributing op-ed writer. He is the co-founder and honorary president of El País, as well as former CEO and chairman of Grupo Prisa, the Spanish media conglomerate that owns the newspaper. He is also vice president of the Asociación de Medios de Información, a Spanish media lobbying group. According to Wikipedia, “Cebrián has been considered by various international media as one of the ten most influential Spaniards in Spain and Latin America for 44 years (from 1976 to 2019).”
He is also, as Wikipedia notes, “the only Hispanic academic member of the Bilderberg Club and the only Spanish-speaking member with executive functions in that organisation.”
In other words, anything Cebrián writes in El País, the newspaper he helped create, holds weight. It also means that the message conveyed in this op-ed, which represents a stark departure from the prevailing media narrative of the last 18 months and is based on a speech Cebrián recently gave to the participants of a program organised by Madrid’s Complutense University and the Institute for Strategic Studies, comes from the very highest levels of Europe’s media establishment.
Now, a few choice excerpts (comments in brackets my own):
We are facing a transcendental issue for the future of Europe upon which the political class has avoided any debate in recent electoral campaigns, despite the implications for the security and development of our country.
In order to analyse the effects of the war, it is necessary to look at its causes (NC: what a smart idea!! If only El País and other influential media had done this 18 months ago!), both the deep-rooted and the more recent ones. I began (my speech) by evoking John L. O’Sullivan, an American journalist who in 1845 proclaimed the “manifest destiny” of the as yet inexistent US empire. Said destiny was to spread throughout the continent, “allotted by providence for the development of a great experiment in freedom and self-government.” This is how he justified the annexation of Texas, Oregon and California, before the United States seized more than 50% of the territory of Mexico and intervened in the Cuban and Philippine revolutions against the Spanish crown.
After describing the westward expansion of the fledgling United States and the early spasms of the US empire, Cebrián proceeds to plot the US’ passage through two world wars, for which, he says, Western Europe owes “the people and government of the United States” a “debt of gratitude.” But he also discusses the US’s many military misadventures, from Vietnam to Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya and Sudan, and their heavy toll, including 500,000 deaths in Iraq alone.
Mackinder and Brzezinski
After that, Cebrián brings in Halford Mackinder’s World Island theory — the idea that “whoever rules the continental heartland (of Eurasia) controls the World Island, and whoever rules the World Island controls the world.” He then recounts how the former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski used that theory to push for NATO expansion right up to the borders of the newly formed Russian Federation. Most controversially, the plan included incorporating the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia into the military alliance (two glaring red lines for Russia’s political and military establishment):
[Brzezinski] recognised that Russian public opinion and broad segments of Ukrainian society considered the shared origin, and therefore destiny, of both countries inviolable. Against this backdrop, there was at least one verbal agreement between the United States and Moscow that guaranteed that Kiev would not join the Alliance, as an unwritten condition for prompt German reunification.* Brzezinski argued that the new European security framework should be based on a close alliance between France, Germany, Poland (his native country) and Ukraine. That would be the way to dominate the heart of Eurasia and by extension control the world. This is the path we are on…
In 2013, the White House sponsored the Euromaidan coup and popular revolution against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president. Moscow’s response was to invade Crimea in 2014. That same year Jens Stoltenberg was appointed Secretary General of NATO, who has pursued out an opportunistic policy of publicly arguing for cooperation with Russia while deploying forces in the countries of central Europe, despite concerns, flagged by Kissinger among others, that no government in the Kremlin would allow the installation of potentially offensive bases 300 kilometres from Moscow.
Russia, A Country in Decline
Russia, Cebrián then says, is a country “in decline,” with a shrinking population and gross domestic product, before adding that “it remains the world’s leading nuclear power.” This is a bizarre statement given that Russia’s autarkic economy has weathered 18 months of all-out war against it from both the US, the world’s [declining] economic superpower and the EU. It also just overtook Germany to become the fifth wealthiest economy in the world and the largest in Europe on PPP (purchasing power parity) terms.
This, I suppose, goes to show that even as Europe’s elite begins recrafting a new narrative around the Ukraine war — which is beginning to happen as that same elite finally realises that Ukraine has zero chance of recapturing its lost territory while the damage to Europe’s economic health continues to mount — they will continue to downplay Russia’s strengths. The fact that Russia’s largely autarkic economy has withstood all 11 rounds of EU sanctions against it far better than the EU’s own economy is by the by.
In fact, at no point in his article does Cebrián mention the Spanish word “economia,” which is curious for an article on the escalating costs of the Ukraine conflict. By contrast, he mentions the name “Kissinger” twice — perhaps not much of a surprise condsidering Henry Kissinger is one of the most senior members of the Bilderberg Club. He’s certainly the oldest:
As Kissinger himself says in his book on leadership, the war in Ukraine embodies the failure of previous attempts at dialogue by the main parties, which are not Kiev and Moscow, but the White House and the Kremlin.
So here we have the first admission, in the main body of the text, that the war in Ukraine is not a war between Ukraine and Russia but instead a proxy war between the White House and the Kremlin. Which brings us to the article’s conclusion:
The immediate consequence of this war has been the subordination of the European Union, a project of peace and cooperation through laws, to a military alliance. So that countries with deep democratic imbalances such as Hungary or Poland are accepted and even flattered by the West, just as the White House seems determined to whitewash even the tyrannical regime of Venezuela [NC: a not-so-subtle reminder of how much Spain’s political and business establishment despise the Bolivarian government in Caracas]. The prolongation of the war has had other effects, such as the creation of a triangle between formerly warring states, Iran, China and Russia, two of them nuclear powers. It has also strengthened the role of Turkey, the Alliance’s founding member, which can hardly be described as a democracy and which does not apply sanctions to the aggressor country.
This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine, but a proxy war between NATO and Russia. Neither of them can be absolute losers if we aspire to a lasting peace in Europe and want to prevent the conflict from spiralling into a third world war. But the voices in favour of a ceasefire do not seem to have much effect on the rulers of democratic Europe, ours included, ready as they are to defend Ukraine until the death of the last Ukrainian.
Cebrián’s article came just days after El Diaro, a left-leaning online news outlet published an interesting op-ed titled “Deconstructing Zelensky”. While I have not read much of El Diario‘s recent coverage of the Ukraine conflict, but looking back at the backlog of article headlines on the topic, this op-ed also appears to represent a departure of sorts.
The article, penned by José Enrique de Ayala, a retired brigadier general of the Spanish army who was second in command of the multinational division of central-south Iraq, which was supported by NATO, does a thorough job of deconstructing Zelensky. A few days before publishing the piece on Zelensky, El Diaro published a similar article by the same author on Putin, titled “Deconstructing Putin.” Though it gets some important things wrong, such as the idea, repeatedly debunked here, that Minsk 2 offered a possible solution to the conflict in the Donbass, it is reasonably measured given the subject matter.
De Ayala is currently a member of the European Council of Foreign Relations and the Security and Defence Council of Fundación Alternativas, a Spanish think tank, as well as an opinion writer for El Diario and El País. In his article on Ukraine’s president, he offers a rare glimpse of some of the darker sides of the Zelensky story.
The key to the [election] campaign that swept Zelensky into power was the fight against corruption and the oligarchs… Yet he has never been able to shake off his ties to Kolomoiski, one of the most corrupt oligarchs in Ukraine. In fact, one of his first decisions [as president] was to appoint the magnate’s lawyer, Andriy Bohdan, as head of the Presidential Administration. In October 2021, the Pandora Papers investigation revealed that Zelensky, his first assistant and Kvartal95 co-founder Sherhiy Shefir, and the head of the Ukrainian Security Service and Zelensky’s childhood friend, Ivan Bakanov, controlled a network of offshore companies in tax havens that owned valuable property in London.
On the war:
When the invasion began, Zelensky appealed for support from NATO, which was already arming and training Ukraine’s army and which gave it to him in abundance. As of the end of May, Ukraine had received more than $85 billion in military aid and the same amount in financial and humanitarian aid, which has allowed Ukraine to resist and Zelensky to stay in power. But the Ukrainian president must know that the main objective of this enormous effort, rather than the defence of Ukraine, is to weaken Russia, and that he must submit to the decisions made by his backers.
The first sign of this subservience came less than a month into the war. In March, Moscow and Kiev undertook several rounds of negotiations in Belarus and finally a meeting of the foreign ministers in Turkey. Some preliminary agreements were reached, notably regarding Ukraine’s neutrality and the withdrawal of Russian forces to their pre-invasion positions, though the territorial question was still left open. Zelensky himself declared on March 15 that Ukraine would not be a member of NATO. But in early April, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Kiev and said publicly that Putin should be pressured, not negotiated with, which brought an end to the negotiations that could have brought an end to the war. The then-Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, who mediated between the two parties, declared in February of this year, in a televised interview (it’s on YouTube), that Western countries blocked the peace agreement…
Zelensky cannot be blamed for defending the independence and integrity of his country with all the means at his disposal. But a responsible political leader has to think about the price that must be paid, especially if there is any possibility of negotiating a just peace…
Unfortunately, de Alaya regurgitates claims originally peddled by the New York Times and German media that Ukraine was behind the sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines. Yves debunked this “intelligence-insulting” story at the time. De Alaya also mentions the possibility that Ukraine was behind the recent bombing of the Nova Kajovka dam, which offers a more plausible plot line:
Neither the US, nor the UK, nor France have directly accused Moscow, which they undoubtedly would have done if they thought it was responsible. A few days after the catastrophe, the spokesman for the US National Security Council, retired Admiral John Kirby, told a press conference that they were working with the Ukrainian government to obtain more information, and that they had not reached any conclusion. After that… crickets. Presumably if they had found any proof or evidence against Russia, it would have been on all the front covers. All possibilities remain open in this case, including an accidental rupture due to structural damage from the fighting, but the radio silence from intelligence services and Western governments makes Ukraine the more likely author.
To his credit, De Alaya ventures into territory that most journalists, columnists and op-ed writers in the West dare not (or at least not just yet) in outlining the Zelensky government’s constant attacks on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, some of which predated Russia’s SMO:
Since the start of the Russian invasion, Zelensky has banned all males between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country. There is no conscientious objection, most men are recruited and sent to the front, whether they want to fight or not… In March 2022, he suspended the activity of 11 political parties… without recourse to law or providing any evidence that they had ties to Moscow… In December 2022, the Ukrainian president signed a media law that was widely criticised by the Union of Journalists of Ukraine for threatening freedom of expression. Under this law, which began to take form in 2019, long before the invasion, the National Broadcasting Council, made up mostly of Zelensky lackeys and the Ukrainian Parliament, currently dominated by the president’s party, can censor TV broadcasters, the press and online journalism, as well as social networks and search engines such as Google.
On Ukraine’s Nazis:
[Zelensky] has tolerated and tolerates Nazis in his country and in his armed and security forces, though it is difficult to say if he did so out of conviction or because he cannot do otherwise. For example, the emblem of the Azov Battalion (now the Brigade) represents the mirror image of the wolfsangel rune taken from the emblem of the 2nd SS Das Reich Division, a Nazi unit that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, particularly Jews, during World War II. There are more units in Ukraine of similar ideology: the Aidar, Donbass and other battalions.
Lastly, de Alaya also explains how the Zelensky brand is largely the creation of Western intelligence services, mainly from the US and UK:
The Ukrainian president has been glorified and sanctified through the tenacious propaganda of the Western intelligence services — mainly the Anglos’ — which has been widely repeated by the vast majority of the media… They have been at it since long before the invasion began, at least since they openly supported the anti-Russian Maidan coup, when Victoria Nuland – then US under-secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs and today acting deputy secretary of state in the Biden Administration — said, in a conversation with the US ambassador to Ukraine: “Fuck the EU”. Zelensky did not exist as a political player at that point. But when he did appear, he was a godsend. Who better than an actor to play the hero – military shirt, unkempt beard, dark circles around the eyes – to… arouse [public] empathy and, with it, the uncritical support of Western citizens for a campaign that goes far beyond this war.
Most of this, of course, is not news to regular NC readers and the commentariat, but the fact that it is being published in a news outlet like El Diario, which has, until now, largely hewed to the official line on the Ukraine war, is news. Even more newsworthy is the fact that José Luis Cebrián, one of Spain’s most influential figures, not only in the media but also in politics and business, is sounding the alarm about the dire consequences of the Ukraine proxy war for the EU, as well as the fact that most European politicians don’t seem to care. Unfortunately, it’s 18 months too late and much of the damage has already been done.
* This is a major understatement on Cebrián’s part. The unspoken agreement to which he refers held that NATO would not absorb any of the former Warsaw Pact countries (apart from East Germany, of course) or the former Soviet republics. As readers well know, then-US Secretary of State James Baker promised Gorbachev that NATO would not move a single inch to the East following German reunification. Instead, it has moved 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) in that direction.